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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   October 2008




Rock On

From ancient fossils to modern "flaming rock" decorative items, Royal Scepter mineral shop and museum gathers no moss. Plus: Civic Center replaces Teleperformance, AmBank gets acquired, Walgreen's buys a liquor license, Las Cruces Limos parks for good, The Beach is reborn and more.

"People bring in chunks of this all the time, asking if I know what it is. I can spot it across the parking lot, as soon as they get out of their car," she says with a laugh. "You can feel how heavy it is for its size," she adds, offering the rock for hefting. "It's magnetite, and it's really common here. But they're convinced they've found a meteorite and it's hard sometimes to convince them that it's not. I even call it 'meteor-wrong,' get it?" she adds with another laugh. "And there's fool's gold, too. Now that's a disappointment when I have to tell them it isn't real!"

business exposure
Sylveen Robinson-Cook in Royal Scepter, the Silver City rock and
mineral store she co-owns with her husband, Kevin Cook.
(Photo by Donna Clayton Lawder)

This month, Robinson-Cook and her husband, Kevin Cook, celebrate five years of owning the Royal Scepter. The business sells rocks and minerals in many forms, including carved gift items and gems made into jewelry.

"We bought the business from Susan Lynch, Judy Allen and Lee Stockman, a trio of partners. They owned it for six or seven years, and they had bought it from Marvin Ellis, who was the original founder," Robinson-Cook says. "As you know, Marvin's a lifelong rockhound!"

Ellis, a sculptor in the northwestern corner of Grant County (see "Rock of Ages," July 2007), lived on the property that is now the Royal Scepter, establishing the business some 26 years ago.

Robinson-Cook and her husband, both geologists, met as students at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, aka New Mexico Tech, in Socorro. She hailed from Iowa, he from Ohio. While studying minerals and other aspects of earth science, the two fell in love with each other and New Mexico. Cook landed a job with Chino Mines, enabling the couple to land in Silver City.

While a goodly percentage of the colorful rocks piled outside the shop date back to Marvin Ellis' time, Robinson-Cook says, Royal Scepter has evolved as a business over the years. That includes the development of a rock and mineral museum and a wide array of products for sale.

"This is something new," she says, pointing out a handsome slab of stone with four metal grommet-looking things protruding from its center. "It's a 'flaming rock.' It's a decorative piece that works like a candle. These are wicks," she explains, demonstrating how they lead to the oil compartments underneath. "The stone is New Mexico travertine, and it's actually a renewable resource. It grows two to three inches per year, so there's always more of it being made."

The cream-and-brown slab, with attractive striations and tiny honeycomb-like holes here and there, occurs naturally near area hot springs. Robinson-Cook says she and her husband saw similar products at shows that had been made out of highly polished, dramatically dark stones. They chose to try their hand at fashioning these oil lamps out of the travertine instead, "because it's pleasant to work with and it looks like New Mexico."

Stone items of all kinds sell well at the shop, she adds. "People just like rocks, they like things made out of rocks, and they seem to especially like knowing the story behind their rock," she says. Customers include locals and visitors, from hikers and rockhounds to gift buyers wanting to take home a piece of New Mexico's geologic wonders.

The store has a large inventory of jewelry and jewelry-making items, like strings of polished gems and minerals.

"We make our own creations. Sometimes I'll just sit here making earrings in-between customers," Robinson-Cook says. She pulls out samples of silver chain-mail items and rolls a fine silver chain between her fingers. "This is something Kevin does. He actually knits with the metal. It's painstaking — I wouldn't have the patience! — but he loves doing this intricate kind of stuff."

Royal Scepter also has minerals in their raw, natural form as well as fossils. This part of New Mexico's unique geologic composition makes for many interesting local specimens, and Robinson-Cook says they are a popular seller.

Want to go out and find your own? The shop also sells books and maps. A comfortable chair invites browsers to peruse books on mineral and fossil identification, rockhound sites, lapidary technique, general geology and more.

"We bought out Troutman Survey's stock of topo (topographical) maps. We have maps for the entire southwestern part of the state," Robinson-Cook says.

Royal Scepter also carries the tools a rockhound needs out there — rock hammers, sledges, chisels and pry-bars called "gads," hand lenses to examine the finds and grit to polish the stones.

"We can hardly keep gold pans and rock hammers in stock," Robinson-Cook says.

But though she's an expert in the field of geology, and loves the sheer unique beauty of rocks, Robinson-Cook says her customers are what she loves most about the business.

"There is a constant influx of interesting people," she says. "This area is internationally famous, with some of the biggest mines in the world, so it is known to geologists. Then there's the historical connection, the Billy the Kid connection," she adds with a laugh. "People find us, and they're some of the most fascinating people you'd ever want to meet."

She describes some of the geologists and other scientists who have come to Royal Scepter's door from around the world. Visitors vary from a European scientist who makes the trek every year to a Tibetan monk.

"We love it here, and this is a great place to own a business like this," Robinson-Cook says. "People coming here tend to be naturalists. They're respectful of the earth and excited over what we have here, rock-wise."

To generate and encourage new rocks lovers, Robinson-Cook says she and her husband are big on educational outreach. Last month, she made a presentation to a group through the Western Institute for Lifelong Learning, WILL ("Where There's a WILL," September 2008).

"We talk to the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, high-school science classes," Robinson-Cook says. "We do something come Earth Day and through the Silver City Museum. We go to all the elementary schools. Fourth grade is earth science, and by the time we get into the classroom, the kids have all their rocks lined up and they're so excited, asking, 'What's this? What's this?' That's always a ton of fun."

Royal Scepter, 1805 Little Walnut Road, Silver City, 538-9001. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; open Saturdays in the fall and holiday season. www.royalscepter.com, royalsceptergems@yahoo.com

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